Professional health workers strike drags on

FTLComm - Tisdale - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

This morning the union representing Saskatchewan's professional health workers brought their pickets to Tisdale as they marched in front of Tisdale's hospital and this afternoon will be picketing the regional health office.

This relatively small union of 2,500 workers, which includes everything from hospital pharmacists to psychologists and paramedics has severely crippled the whole delivery and additional services of the medical care programme in the province.

The Union had only resorted to strike action when it was clear that the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organisations (SAHO) headed by Louise Simard refused to bargain with the group. The case went to court and the court found in favour of the group siting the provincial organisation, SAHO for having bargained in bad faith.

The next step was an attempt at mediation which failed simply because the SAHO refused to budge and made an offer of 21% over five years which essentially would mean a salary cut as this group of workers have been underpaid for years and inflation would consume the meager salary offer. The Union is demanding 34% over three years which will still see their people paid far below neighbouring provinces and about 50% below workers in the private sector.

The provincial government is saying that it is not its problem, that the responsibility for doing the negotiations rests with the highly paid individuals in the SAHO who apparently could care less about Saskatchewan's people, as they have brought a series of strikes to the province, as they front for the government's clear policy to destroy publicly funded medical care in the province.

These people on this picket line reported that recruiters from neighbouring provinces are approaching their members and they feel that this strike will simply fade away as most of the people now on strike go elsewhere to work. Yesterday, Manitoba and Alberta recruiters were doing on the picket line interviews in Saskatoon.

One shocking affect of this disassembly of the union membership as they leave for work elsewhere, is that a majority of them are married to health workers and when they leave, with them goes their nurse spouse and the whole system becomes even more understaffed.

Most of the people on strike at this time were in positions were there were many vacancies, as their fellow workers had already bailed out. This, of course, was contributing significantly to the unhappiness among these people as they were overworked and can see that they are also underpaid.

This young woman's sign is particularly telling as she states that "she would rather be working." Career studies have shown repeatedly that people who enter professions like these, are extremely dedicated to what they do. Having made a huge investment in education, they seek employment that will offer them the maximum opportunity to help people. When it comes right down to it, these studies show that people who have this kind of motivation, place job satisfaction way above wages. With the attrition from loss of people who simply can not justify attempting to raise their families on Saskatchewan wages, the work force is depleted and the main thing these people rely upon, "helping people" is undermined and they have sadly reached the point where they must go on strike.

This is a new union and this is its first strike ever as its members were members of other unions in the past and as a new union, it does not have the funds to maintain a long and protracted fight. Each member receives $20 a day strike pay if they show up to picket, so that earning less than an hour's wages a day is placing extreme financial pressure on them. This pressure and the many jobs elsewhere at so much higher wages, will see the numbers in this union practically vanish if this strike lasts more than a month.

Once these people have accepted offers either in the private sector, or out of province, they will not be returning. Their skill and training, their dedication to their work and the people of this province will be lost.

The Saskatchewan health care system is already reeling from the reorganization from districts to regions with extreme shortages of nurses, overworked doctors, city hospitals which are practically incapable of handling as many as the number of victims from a single car accident, waiting lists that are the longest in the country and now this strike, with the results of it, causing the loss of perhaps as high as thirty to fifty percent of its work force.

Saskatchewan is not faced with the lack of money in the health care system, it has developed a completely dysfunctional structure, where the management of the system has moved from the on the spot health care professionals, to business commerce graduates, who call themselves "corporations" and apply, as the head of the professional health care workers union president, said this morning on CBC radio, the ethics of business to the administration of medical care. They have been taught in their commerce courses to "get the better" of their competitor and are ill equipped to manage a publicly funded and service organisation.

With out the immediate disbanding of SAHO and the ridiculous health regions, if you plan to care for yourself and your family, you better get a health insurance plan that will give you care in North Dakota or perhaps the two neighbouring provinces, because in Saskatchewan, the government has successfully organised the system into chaos.

Timothy W. Shire




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